Zoologists study the physical characteristics, diets and behaviour of animals and other wildlife. They observe animals, in captivity or in the wild, to evaluate their interactions with ecosystems and the impacts humans have on their species.
Zoologists may take measurements, collect biological specimens and conduct experiments with wildlife in nature, zoos or other controlled areas. Their goals include controlling diseases, addressing invasive species and developing conservation plans.
Duties and responsibilities
- Study characteristics of animals, such as origin, development, genetics and interrelationships
- Observe and evaluate animals and wildlife in their natural habitats or in captivity
- Assess animal behaviour, their interaction with ecosystems and the impacts humans have on them
- Develop and conduct experimental studies with animals in natural or controlled environments
- Compile and evaluate the characteristics of animals to identify and classify them
- Collect biological data and specimens for analysis
- Prepare preserved specimens and microscopic slides for study of species development or disease
- Coordinate preventative programmes to control spread of wildlife diseases
- Research and develop new pest control or veterinary medicines
- Research improvements to breeding programmes to support healthy game animals and endangered species
- Assist conservation groups in rehabilitating and releasing animals back into the wild
- Investigate pests, diseases, toxins and habitat changes that affect animals and other wildlife
- Monitor and estimate wildlife populations, address invasive species and other threats
- Develop conservation plans, making recommendations to general public and policymakers
- Make recommendations on management systems and planning for wildlife populations and habitat
- Write and publish scientific papers to report findings
- Perform administrative duties, such as budgeting, record-keeping, fundraising and supervising staff
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Nights and weekends
Most zoologists work full time. They may work overtime and on irregular schedules when doing fieldwork. Studying nocturnal animals in the wild requires working at night.
Zoologists may work in a variety of environments. They are employed by zoos and aquariums, wildlife parks, conservation groups, government agencies, universities and pharmaceutical companies. You may work in an office, laboratory or outdoors. Zoologists may travel extensively to observe wildlife in their natural habitats.
Tracking, observing and collecting samples from wildlife can be dangerous. Zoologists may deal with extreme weather and travel conditions and difficult terrain. Working in extended isolation can be emotionally stressful, and long hours and travel can put a strain on personal relationships.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Zoology, biology or related degree
Zoologists typically have a bachelor's degree in zoology, ecology or other related degree. Majoring in biology with coursework in zoology is also applicable to a zoology career. Consider additional classes in physics, chemistry, botany, mathematics and statistics to assist with all facets of your job as zoologist.
Many students focus their coursework on a specific group of animals, fish, reptiles or insects. You may also specialise in animal behaviour or fossil studies. Higher-level scientific and investigative work may require a master's degree in your chosen specialty. Independent research firms and universities typically look for candidates with a PhD.
Competition for zoology jobs is fierce, so experience with wildlife and the outdoors can help set you apart from other candidates. This includes backpacking and camping as well as volunteer work for zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centres and non-profit groups.
Most zoologists begin in an entry-level position in zoos, habitats and conservation organisations. After gaining experience in conducting successful research, testing and population management, you will typically be offered a team lead position. A respectable combination of field experience, research and published articles will make you a desirable candidate for higher-level positions.
Earning a master’s degree in your specialty can open up more exciting opportunities in large scientific studies and intensive fieldwork. A PhD leads to careers in research at government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and universities. Postgraduate degrees also offer the opportunity to teach, either on a full-time basis or in collaboration with specialty research.